Serving Together: Research on Dual-Military Couples

By Kacy Mixon, M.S., LMFT

Couple holding hands with wire ring spelling "Hope"
[Flickr, Holding-Hands by Yowl Ben-Avraham,CC BY-ND 2.0] Retrieved on September 17, 2015
Dual-military marriagesor when an Active Duty member is married to another Active Duty member or to a member of the Reserve/Guard–are becoming more common within each branch of the military. Recently, the Department of Defense (DoD) reported the following statistics related to dual-military couples:

  • Over 90,000 Active Duty members (6.5%) are in dual-military marriages. [1]
  • The Air Force has the highest percentage (11.6%) of members in dual-military marriages. [1]
  • In all Service branches, a higher percentage of female military members are in dual-military marriages than males. [1]

The military treats each member of the dual-military couple as an independent entity despite the couple making decisions jointly. Unfortunately, this can be problematic creating additional stressors. Professionals working with military families are in a unique position to advocate for and assist with dual-military couples’ readiness or healthy coping to combat additional stressors connected to their circumstances. Dual-military couples are even more vulnerable to parenting and separation stressors because:

Parenting stressors: Childcare most notably affects the retention rate of dual-military couples because maintaining the appropriate level of care becomes cumbersome to manage when both parents could potentially be deployed [2].

Separation stressors: There is an increased likelihood that the dual-career couples will be away from one another for longer periods of time if deployments, trainings, and assignments are not simultaneous [3].

Dual-military couples tend to be underrepresented in research initiatives involving military families and couples [3]. Literature on dual-military couples tend to focus on women’s issues (i.e. equitable promotions, maternity leave, retention, etc.) rather than focus on unique struggles experienced by the couple.  One study, however, researched over 28,000 Air Force members, comparing the retention rates among dual-military and non-dual military couples (i.e. single, divorced, civilian partner, etc.) [4].

The following summarizes findings from this study: [4]

  • After 10-years  in service, dual military members are less motivated to complete full careers than their non-dual military peers.
  • Children typically  provide motivation for individuals to remain in service for 20 years; however, they are less of a motivating factor for dual-military couples.
  • Deployments have a  more negative effect on dual-military member retention than on non-dual military members.
  • Promotions can cause difficulties for dual-military couples because, often, one member has to make a career sacrifice in order for the other to accept advancement.
  • Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves are often a source of stress for dual-military couples and can negatively affect retention.

Military One Source provides information about challenges that dual-military couples can anticipate as well as suggestions for how dual-military couples can develop healthy coping strategies.

2 Replies to “Serving Together: Research on Dual-Military Couples”

  1. This is an article I could have possibly written as a dual-military AF couple nanny. I have been referred to other AF families for back up care, and I have seen these moms struggle with balancing it all. The strain, and the decisions to get out to have some normalcy and stability in family life.

    I do think it takes a special awareness for the childcare providers and others to support them as they contend with this all.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Lisa. We are glad that you find this blog informative and that it’s consistent with your experience working with military families.

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